Mrs. Henderson Presents

"Weak"

Mrs. Henderson Presents Review


The best reason for making Mrs. Henderson Presents seems to be we haven't had a cheeky film about curious Brits getting naked since, oh, Calendar Girls. Given the lackadaisical construction of this pallid backstage fairy tale it's hard to imagine any other driving force behind its production. Writer Martin Sherman is an old hand at transforming the theatrical into the cinematic, with works such as Bent and Callas Forever under his belt, so it's no surprise he'd be drawn to the interesting (definitely not incredible, but interesting nonetheless) true story of Laura Henderson and the Windmill Theatre.

The film opens on Mrs. Henderson, played by the indomitable Judi Dench as an imperviously imperious lady of vast wealth and even vaster arrogance, dealing with all the troublesome nonsense of burying her husband. Having spent most of her life in India, she seems at odds in prewar London, with the money to do practically whatever she wants but no patience for the typical pastimes of the upper-class widow (needlepoint, charities, and so on). On a lark, she decides to buy the decrepit Windmill Theater and is well into refurbishing it before realizing she doesn't really know what kind of shows she'll put on. That's where Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) comes in. A crusty old showbiz type with nice suits, big cigars, and even bigger ideas, Van Damm realizes what he's up against when Henderson announces to him, "Of course you're Jewish - look at you!"

The easygoing humor of the film's early passages is based mostly on utterances of this kind, Mrs. Henderson having been walled off from the world by her wealth and position for so long that she wouldn't know a faux pas if it stole her pearls. This being Judi Dench, of course, we know that she's not really prejudiced, simply uneducated in things involving the wider world. Perfectly matched for blustery sparring, Dench and Hoskins snort and rant at each other with delightful glee before settling on a simple division of labor: He runs the creative side of things, no questions asked, and she puts up the money.

Van Damm's big idea is to run a type of musical variety show - "what the Americans call vaudeville" and what he calls "Revudeville" - and not just a performance or two a night, but continuously, all day. Big success is signaled by a montage of happy audiences applauding the roughly-patched together segments of comedy, song, dance, and pretty girls. Then, big flop after every other theater copies them. Like a lightbulb going off above her impressively Maggie Thatcherite grey hair, Henderson decides that the girls should simply strip off their clothes to continue piquing audience interest. Licensing issues are handled by Henderson's being good chums with the relevant government official, Lord Cronmer (Christopher Guest, looking slightly lost), and an arrangement is struck: They can have the nude girls, so long as they don't move and look like classical art tableaux. London's population of young men seem very pleased by the compromise.

Not long after this development, the Blitz comes pounding on the ceiling of the theater, which, being underground, nicely doubles as a bomb shelter in the middle of performances. It's here where the film's assemblage of stock characters and clichés familiar from cozy British war-era dramas - the English rose giving her all to the boys, the sweet soldier heading off to the front, plucky Londoners standing firm against the Luftwaffe - start crowding in thickly, suffocating the mere string of plot that previously existed. Even the marvelous pairing of Dench and Hoskins, circling each other with delighted anticipation of the next argument, is practically forgotten.

The story of the Windmill should be a rousing one. Besides using pretty naked girls to warm the hearts of lonely soldiers, it was the only London theater not to close during the Blitz, the performers sleeping backstage because it was too dangerous to go home. But Stephen Frears' lazy directing and Sherman's meandering script insistently go for the safe, for the cozy, each and every time the film shows a glimmer of potential.

Don't move. Seriously.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: David Aukin, ,

Starring: as Mrs. Laura Henderson, as Vivian Van Damm, as Bertie, as Lord Cromer, as Maureen, Thelma Barlow as Lady Conway, as Peggy

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Advertisement
Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.